Criminal Law

1831. Extortion by Threatening Letter

The defendant is charged [in Count ______] with sending a threatening letter with the intent to extort.

To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:

1. The defendant sent or delivered a threatening letter [or other writing] to another person;

<Alternative 2A—threatened to injure>

[2. In the letter [or writing], the defendant threatened to unlawfully injure (the other person or someone else/ [or] the property of the other person or someone else);]

<Alternative 2B—threatened to accuse of crime>

[2. In the letter [or writing], the defendant threatened to accuse the other person[, or that person's relative or family member,] of a crime;]

<Alternative 2C—threatened to expose secret>

[2. In the letter [or writing], the defendant threatened to expose a secret about the other person[, or that person's relative or family member,] [or to expose or connect (him/ her/any of them) with a (disgrace[,]/ [or] crime[,]/ [or] deformity)];]


3. When sending or delivering the letter [or writing], the defendant intended to use fear to obtain (money [or property]/[or] the performance of an official act) with the other person's consent.

The term consent has a special meaning here. Consent for extortion can be coerced or unwilling, as long as it is given as a result of the wrongful use of force or fear.

[The threat can be directly stated in the letter [or writing] or can be implied by the contents of the letter [or writing] and the surrounding circumstances or can be intended by the sender to be understood as a threat by the recipient.]

[Threatening to do something that a person has a legal right to do is not a threat to commit an unlawful injury.]

[The letter [or writing] does not need to be signed and does not need to have been (written/dictated/composed) by the defendant.]

[The crime is complete when the letter [or writing] is either delivered to someone or deposited in a post office or any other place, with the intent that the letter [or writing] be forwarded to the intended recipient. It is not required that the intended recipient actually receive the letter [or writing].]

[It is not required that the intended recipient actually (give the defendant money [or property]/ [or] do an official act).]

[An official act is an act that a person does in his or her official capacity, using the authority of his or her public office.]

[A secret is a fact that:

1. Is unknown to the general public or to someone who might be interested in knowing the fact;


2. Harms the threatened person's reputation or other interest so greatly that he or she would be likely to (give the defendant money[or property]/ [or] do an official act) to prevent the fact from being revealed.]

Bench Notes

Instructional Duty

The court has a sua sponte duty to give this instruction defining the elements of the crime.

Depending on the evidence, in element 2, give the appropriate alternative A-C describing the threat. (Pen. Code, § 519.)


Elements. Pen. Code, § 523.

Crime Complete When Mailed. Pen. Code, § 660.

Felony Punishment. Pen. Code, § 520.

Threats. Pen. Code, § 519.

Coerced Consent. People v. Goodman (1958) 159 Cal.App.2d 54, 61 [323 P.2d 536]; People v. Peck (1919) 43 Cal.App. 638, 645 [185 P. 881] [extortion under Pen. Code, §§ 518, 519].

Official Act Defined. See People v. Mayfield (1997) 14 Cal.4th 668, 769-773 [60 Cal.Rptr.2d 1, 928 P.2d 485] [kidnapping for extortion]; People v. Norris (1985) 40 Cal.3d 51, 55-56 [219 Cal.Rptr. 7, 706 P.2d 1141] [same].

Secret Defined. People v. Lavine (1931) 115 Cal.App. 289, 295 [1 P.2d 496] [extortion under Pen. Code, §§ 518, 519].

Unlawful Injury Defined. People v. Schmitz (1908) 7 Cal.App. 330, 369-370 [94 P. 407] [extortion under Pen. Code, §§ 518, 519].

Secondary Sources

2 Witkin & Epstein, California Criminal Law (3d ed. 2000) Crimes Against Property, § 109.

6 Millman, Sevilla & Tarlow, California Criminal Defense Practice, Ch. 143, Crimes Against Property, § 143.02 (Matthew Bender).


Adding "official act" to section 518 expanded the definition of extortion in the related code sections, including section 523, to include extortion of an official act. (Isaac v. Superior Court (1978) 79 Cal.App.3d 260, 263-264 [146 Cal.Rptr. 396].)

Lesser Included Offenses

Attempted Extortion. Pen. Code, § 524.

(New January 2006)